To Theo, Upon Turning Eight

My dear sassy son,

You turned eight a few days ago, and it really didn’t surprise me that you stumbled downstairs before dawn and sleepily announced, “I’m eight years old now, Mom. That means only ten more years until I’m officially an adult.” After all, you want nothing more than to be an adult already. (Clearly you haven’t yet figured out that adulthood isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be!)

But then, nothing about you should surprise me, because nothing about you has ever been by the book. No, you’ve been full of surprises since day one….

Let’s talk about day one. You love talking about day one. We tell you the story of how you broke the bag of water that held your body in mine because you were so eager to get out in the world a little early…but then you changed your mind and decided to hole up in my body for another thirty-six hours, until we unceremoniously evicted you.

And recently, I’ve begun to tell you how you were so very serious when you looked at me in those first minutes after birth. I expected a tiny, wide-eyed, wondrous face to look at me when I beheld you, but no…instead you squinted at me quite suspiciously and just sized me up for the longest time. It was so pronounced that my second words to you, after “So that’s what you look like!” were “Why are you looking at me so suspiciously?” It was as if you were saying, “Who are you and what was up with that whole birth thing? I am not amused.” Yeah, I wasn’t too amused either, buddy. Much like adulthood, birth isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

And then there was that whole months-on-end-of-screaming phase. Oh my, that was quite a stage. I have to tell you, that made such an impression on Daddy and me that we almost called it “one and done” and didn’t have any more kids. But then when you were about two, you got all adorable and we decided we should have one more. Well played, son—I know how fond you are of your brother and how lonely you’d be without him, so it’s a good thing you dropped the tyrant act for long enough for us to decide we ought to have another one.

I’m kidding, Theo. Well, sort of. You did scream a lot, and it did take Daddy and me more than two years before we felt like we could go through that again. But it wasn’t your fault—I’m not sure that anyone can pinpoint exactly what made you so uncomfortable as an infant, but it’s probably some combination of dairy allergies and autism-related sensory stuff. And Daddy and I always knew it wasn’t your fault—we loved you to infinity even though those first two years were the hardest time in our lives. And you know what? We have you to thank for making our marriage incredibly strong. Daddy and I were pretty much newlyweds when you came along, and it was a real shock to be learning to be married and learning how to care for a very, very fussy baby. But we made it through, and we grew so close because of it. Because even though we have a lot of good people around us and everyone tried to help, Daddy and I felt like we were the only two people in the world who really, really understood what it was like. When we were frazzled and frustrated and just didn’t know how we’d make it through another hour, we turned to each other because we knew that the other person was the only one in the world who understood exactly what we were feeling.

And you know what? That closeness has served us very well ever since, Theo. You sometimes worriedly ask us whether we’ll ever get divorced, and we tell you no. That’s not just a line we say to make you feel better. Daddy and I are stuck together tighter than glue, thanks in part to what we learned while raising you. So you’re stuck with us together, my friend…that’s not ever going to change.

But back to you surprising us all the time. When you were a toddler, you were a tiny bit on the late side for talking. Not really late, but just a little later than some kids. But when you started talking, it was with this hilarious old-man vocabulary. I can’t even tell you how many laughs you have given us over the years when you launch into some discussion that sounds like it’s coming out of the mouth of a fifty-year-old man. Just tonight, you quite seriously said to me “I beg your pardon” in the middle of a sentence. I’m pretty sure you’re the only eight-year-old I know who uses that phrase.

And then your little brother came along, and you surprised us yet again. When Sam was born, you were going through kind of a hard time. You got kicked out of preschool (long story about a cranky head teacher), and we had moved a hundred miles away from your home a few months before. You were frustrated a lot of the time…understandably. So we figured having a new brother come into the picture might be yet another frustration for you. But obviously we wanted your little brother and knew that eventually, you’d work through any sibling frustration and all would be fine.

But you surprised us. You adored Sam from the moment you saw him, and in the four years he’s been your brother, nothing has changed. You absolutely adore him, and he adores you. Don’t get me wrong: You kind of hate the fact that he wants to watch Thomas the Train all the time. And you don’t really love the fact that he’s not yet toilet trained, so his diapers make your room rather stinky. But aside from that, you adore him and are fiercely protective of him. You were telling me the other day all about how when he starts as your school (which, if you have your way, would be a year earlier than we want him to start there), you’re going to make sure no one is ever mean to him. And if they are, you have all sorts of plans for how you’re going to take them down. (Please stick to the plans that involve words, not fists, Theo. As much as I love your devotion to your brother, I’d rather you not start smacking people around. Words are stronger than fists anyway. Let’s remember that.)

And lately, you surprise me so much with how you are at school. You’re kind of a celebrity at your school, at least among the office staff. Your old-man vocabulary is ridiculously cute to adults, and you seem to have quite a following in the office. You also have your teacher wrapped around your finger—nice work there, my friend. But what surprises me is how well you hold things together at school. Because I’m well aware of how hard it is for you to sit relatively still, to keep quiet when you’re supposed to, and to focus on directions and completing your work. And I’m well aware of how very, very much you like to argue and debate everything—you will argue anything with Daddy and I, for no other reason than just to argue! But somehow, at school you hold it all together and are polite and respectful to your teacher, and you try very hard to do what’s expected of you in class. Sometimes when you come home, I can tell how hard you worked because you just bounce off the walls like a coiled spring and talk nonstop for so long that my brain is buzzing and I long for a Mute button. And I know that you held it together all day in class, and then all that energy and all those words just have to come spilling out. I’m impressed by how you do that, Theo.

But you know what impresses me more? That you’re kind at school. You’re kind at home, too, and I love that about you. But I love it even more that I hear from your teacher how good you are with the other kids who are struggling a bit. You are a good person, Theo, and that is the biggest thing I ever wanted from you. Keep that beautiful piece of yourself always, please. Of all of the many wonderful things about you, it is the piece I love very most of all.

What more can I say? Eight is fun so far. Eight is mouthy, sassy debates over nothing important, but it’s also coming home from school brimming with facts about owls and owl pellets and how you can’t wait to dissect a pellet. Eight is a Star Wars and Harry Potter obsession. Eight is a budding Cub Scout who can’t wait to go on his first real camping trip. Eight is a devoted brother who thinks he’s old enough to throw in his two cents about Sam’s upbringing…and it’s clear that his two cents is always done with much thought about what’s best for Sam.

Can we stay at eight? I like eight. Eight may make me very tired some nights (okay, many nights), but I love it.

And I love you, Theo.

Love, Mama

Boy, if this picture doesn't sum you up perfectly! Grimy little-boy hands with dirt under the nails...and the whimsy and wonder of blowing confetti in the air. That's you in a nutshell, my son.
Boy, if this picture doesn’t sum you up perfectly! Grimy little-boy hands with dirt under the nails…and the whimsy and wonder of blowing confetti in the air. That’s you in a nutshell, my son.


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